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Starting at 8:30 a.m. every Wednesday and Friday, Help Me Help You volunteers gather in assembly-line fashion as music plays, packing and loading up to 600 bags of fresh produce, meat and dairy products for a grocery Grab N’ Go event.
“Volunteers are our backbone,” said Brandon Fallon, Help Me Help You’s CalFresh program supervisor and program analyst. “It’s a very physically active environment.”
Every third Saturday, Help Me Help You welcomes the public to its most lively Grab N’ Go event at Perry Lindsey Academy—an event featuring music, decorations, and a holiday theme such as St. Patrick’s Day in March or Easter in April, serving 150 to 200 people each time.
“We try and make it more festive for people to come out and get some food and get some enjoyment,” said Fallon.
Although finding enough volunteers can sometimes be difficult for the organization, the nonprofit frequently reaches out to other organizations and companies, and has successfully collaborated with other nonprofits such as Gay for Good and employees of various Long Beach Starbucks locations.
“We’re always looking for new avenues to get fresh faces,” said Fallon. “Once you get there, we all get to know each other, but if you come with maybe two or three friends, co-workers, colleagues, it makes fun.”
Throughout 2021, the organization served about 50,000 individuals through its 10 food pantries, and 500 people each month with the grocery delivery program, which was adapted during the pandemic and that Fallon hopes will continue on.
But an integral part of the 20-year-old organization’s mission is not only to distribute fresh and nutritious food to those in need, but to also connect residents to resources such as CalFresh, Social Security, and CAPI, a cash assistance program for immigrants, said Fallon.
There are many obstacles facing residents from connecting to needed resources, said Fallon.
The process of applying for Social Security can often be time-consuming and involved, particularly for many of the clients the organization assists who are low-income or experiencing homelessness and may be missing required documentation, explained Fallon.
“Having an advocate be there to help you along the way really had benefited,” said Fallon.
Help Me Help You has an 80% success rate for assisting residents with Social Security claims, said Fallon, sometimes assisting clients who have been denied two or three times beforehand.
“We basically do the footwork for them, we walk them through the process,” said Fallon. “We do the intake, we collect the medical records, and basically as much work as we can do so they don’t have to stress out about it.”
For people who are ineligible for Social Security benefits due to immigration status, the organization also assists with applying for CAPI, a state program that functions similarly to Social Security, except that it is geared towards Green Card holders.
Many people who are eligible for resources may not even be aware— According to Fallon, roughly 30% of people who are eligible for CalFresh, California’s food assistance program, are unaware of the program or their eligibility.
Help Me Help You is bridging that gap, and last year, the organization assisted 500 families with enrollment.
“We try not to use the word ‘food stamps,’ because it doesn’t have as good of a connotation to it,” said Fallon. “I guess you can say embarrassment, or shame, but that’s something that we’re trying to do away with.”
Apart from directly assisting with resources, the organization also utilizes partnerships to connect clients to caseworkers, mental health services, or even other food pantries for those who are too far from one of the organization’s locations.
It’s all about creating a “social safety net,” said Fallon, whether it’s working directly within Help Me Help You or relying on assistance from other agencies.
“We want to challenge food insecurity,” said Fallon. “No one should be hungry.”